First person: Tyler Baptists meet challenges in impoverished Malawi

Going to what the CIA states as the “poorest country in the world” was both a challenging and a rewarding experience. But more than anything else, this mission trip was a learning experience.

On Oct. 1, nine members of Friendly Baptist Church in Tyler left for Malawi, Africa, on a 12-day trip in which the round-trip travel time alone would take 74 hours. The team was led by Tyler businessman and church member Bill Langley, who had been to the country on two previous mission trips.

The goal was to have teams go to more than 100 locations in and around Lilongwe, capital of Malawi, distributing Bibles and soccer balls to schools by day and showing the Jesus film in villages by night.

The country, most famous recently due to rock star Madonna’s frequent visits and documentary film, is located just east of Zambia and was one of the countries visited by famed Scottish missionary Dr. David Livingstone in the mid 1800s. Slightly smaller than Pennsylvania, this land-locked country has over 14 million people, more than half of whom are younger than 16 years of age. The life expectancy at birth is only 43 years.

Public schools were just as inviting and open as the private Christian schools to hear Americans share the gospel and give AIDS awareness presentations. In all, the teams distributed approximately 3,500 Bibles and 180 soccer balls at 60 schools.

At night, the Jesus film was shown at 33 locations with a peak attendance of more
than 4,000 people at one location. That site was where a new church was formed the following Sunday. A conservative estimate was that more than 25,000 indicated they had prayed to receive Christ during the week’s worth of evangelistic efforts.

Local pastor Emmanuel Chinkwita-Phiri and his wife Lydia helped coordinate the mission trip including getting translators who were mostly seminary students from the Baptist Seminary of Malawi. The seminary is staffed in part with missionaries from the International Mission Board, which also assists with a portion of the administration of the school. Local pastors went with the Americans, allowing the people who came to make immediate connections with local churches.

“Abusa Emmanuel” also made arrangements for schools, contracting the Jesus film and equipment, and purchased the Bibles with funds provided prior to the team’s arrival. The men of the team also preached Sunday morning worship services and the women gave presentations during the week at schools.

Many of the seminary students who are seeking to become pastors do so at great financial peril. The average income per person in Malawi is just over $600 a year.
AIDS prevalence among the adults is moderate compared with other African countries, but still is a staggering 14 percent of the population. Newspaper obituaries are predominated by those in their 20s and early 30s and also children, while rarely do the obituaries describe someone over 50.

Until recently, Malawi had severe food shortages due to prolonged droughts, interspersed with mammoth amounts of rains, which would be almost as devastating to the crops as the lack of rain. A recent program by the government to distribute fertilizer to the people, along with more cooperative weather, has reversed the food shortage and actually allowed Malawi to be an exporter of grain last year.

With such dismal news, the people are amazingly joyful, especially the children. The people generally have a high regard for Americans. One interpreter credited Christian missionaries, who have helped the struggling country over the past decades, for forming a positive attitude towards Americans. And as the results indicate, they are extremely receptive to the gospel.

The trip did not come without a major setback. Team leader Bill Langley tripped and fell early on a Sunday morning, breaking his hip. He and his wife and another team member had to be air-flighted to South Africa, where he had a full hip replacement before he could return to the United States, nearly two weeks later.

Because the trip was not officially coordinated with the International Mission Board, the team did not get travel insurance, which is required in all IMB-related mission trips. That lesson learned the hard way is a very important one for all short-term mission groups to know, Langley said.

The insurance offered by the official carrier for the IMB provides medical, accidental death, medical evacuation, disability and many other benefits. The cost is only dollars per day, but is absolutely vital should the need arise.

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